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Attendance Grades Without Accommodations are Ableism: A Broader Perspective

Opinions Student Voices

Attendance Grades Without Accommodations are Ableism: A Broader Perspective

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This article is a continuation of another article I wrote earlier this semester, titled “Attendance Grades Without Accommodations are Ableism.” My initial idea and first article received a lot of positive feedback, so I decided to collect some students’ opinions to highlight a few of the other people who have been affected by the lack of online/recorded class options. These are only a few of the many student and professor voices I’ve heard from while doing this project.

As I have difficulty processing auditory information, my main method of interviewing was texting or emailing four questions for each interviewee to answer. The questions and some of the responses, which I have made into a word quilt of sorts, are as follows:

What have you noticed about attitudes toward normalcy this semester?

What IS normalcy? There is no “normal,” and the idea that there is, is false (IN). “Normalcy” feels like it actually means “non-accommodating” (MF). I feel a little bit as though we’re forced to pretend that everything is normal (CB). I’ve noticed a lot of disappointment and frustration about the lack of precautions in place to protect our community from COVID-19, especially compared to how successful the COVID policies were last year… there is a lot of anxiety about getting sick (CE). Structures put in place to handle the pandemic are being taken away, when they could actually be used to benefit everyone, especially disabled/chronically ill people (MF). A lot of students and professors tend to forget that there are people with illnesses year-round, and a lot of those illnesses are invisible… a lot of [non-disabled]  people forget that their normal isn’t the norm for many people on campus (ED). You have people trying to adapt so the question [of normalcy] is kinda subjective (KH). It honestly varies from professor to professor—I’ve heard that some are being very understanding and accommodating to students, whereas others are expecting things to be completely back to normal… most of my professors have been amazingly accommodating (SN). It is, therefore, prudent that we understand and respect one another’s situations and experiences (IN). The administration and community should be more willing to help (KT).

How has a lack of online meeting options affected you this semester?

Due to multiple chronic illnesses, I am often forced to miss in person meetings of class (CB). I live with pain, nausea, fainting episodes, fatigue, and panic attacks and my symptoms vary in severity, unpredictably every day… I do everything I can to attend class and to participate as much as possible (CE). I just have to push through the pain and hobble my way to class (ED). Some days [I can’t] go outside because of the light (KT). My pain has been severely exacerbated from having to walk around campus. If I had the option to attend class virtually some days, I don’t think my body would be deteriorating as quickly (MF). [During the pandemic], on bad days I could just get online and be in class with my camera and sound off. This allowed me to attend more classes than I have ever been able to before (CE). The system of remote learning was not only helpful to those who came into direct contact with COVID-19, but to those who suffered the repercussions of it in numerous medical and emotional ways (KT). Being forced to suddenly go back to doing everything in person with less precautions being taken is just scary (CE). Between chronic illness and viruses going around, I have had to miss a substantial number of class meetings and the material (CB). Our school would benefit from keeping these options open to students because there are students on our campus whose attendance is majorly impacted by physical or mental health… students should still be given the opportunity to learn if they can… At the very least, I think that online attendance should be an accommodation for students struggling with these mental and physical health conditions (SN).

What is your preferred class structure?

I definitely prefer to be in person, but there needs to be some flexibility in the ability to attend when in-person is not an option (CB). I like meeting in person, it makes me more present and holds me accountable (KH). I get the most out of my education in fully virtual, synchronous classes, but there is also value in in-person learning. I also know people with different chronic illnesses who really struggle with virtual learning and get the most out of class when it is in person (CE). I personally learn more when I’m taking classes in person (SN). I’m mostly content with class being “normal” but I wish there was a virtual option or that there was a way for students to get the same materials and lectures that people in person [are] able to get (ED). I am left falling behind (CB). Shouldn’t we be trying to make classrooms as accessible as possible to as many people as possible (SN)? I also know hybrid classes are not ideal and that there is no easy solution. But, if I had to choose, I would prefer hybrid classes where students have the option to attend class however they want (CE). Even just the ability to listen to conversation would help to keep me plugged in (CB). If an online platform allows for more students to participate in class, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be an option (SN).

Do you have any other commentary about classroom accessibility that you’d like to provide for this article? 

[We need] more options for students who can’t always be in class. I understand that remote options aren’t always super useful, but a guide to what we’ve missed or a quick rundown would go a long way towards help[ing] us to get caught up. (CB)

Mental health occasionally requires sick days, just like physical health, except students can not just grab a doctor’s note for this. Instead they are expected to still attend classes and “deal with it”… Taking this option away now that we have reached a “new normal” is only hurting those students. (KT)

I just want to say that it can be really scary trying to navigate your disability/chronic illness, and having to figure it out at school can make it even more difficult. One of the best things people- especially teachers- can do, is just listen and check up on disabled students…  a lot of disabled/chronically ill people are immunocompromised. It’s so helpful for teachers to prompt student to wear their masks correctly, because then disabled students don’t have to expend that energy. (MF)

Southwestern has historically seemed to be committed to meeting students where they are at; we have accommodations for students with a variety of different needs… part of that is helping students attend class in whatever way they are able to… It’s not fair to be excluded from being a good student just because my body isn’t working. (ND)

A gentle reminder to all professors: students with accommodations have them because they are necessary for that student’s success 🙂 (SN)

A note from the author:

It has been an honor to talk to all of these students and many more who are negatively affected by the lack of attendance options for those who are chronically ill and/or disabled. I sincerely thank all of you for your time, compassion, and stories.

Student Participants

  • Caitlin Babb (CB)
  • Cami Eagle (CE)
  • Emily Dimiceli (ED)
  • Isabel Neumann (IN)
  • Kamrin Taylor (KT)
  • Kellie Henderson (KH)
  • Miranda Farrar (MF)
  • Nila Dhinaker (ND)
  • Sophia Neumann (SN)

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